I didn’t post about the passing of Studs Terkel, one of my few remaining heroes, because it didn’t seem to have any relation to the ambit of LH, but I am pleased to find, via Arnold Zwicky at the Log, that I am wrong: his writings were a great resource for linguists.
Studs Terkel, who died recently, at the age of 96, had a special place in the hearts of some linguists — those who were studying the syntax (and accompanying pragmatics) of colloquial Englsh, back in the old days, before very large corpora and automated search techniques were easily available.
There were essentially two says to investigate colloquial language non-anecdotally: collect your own corpora… or use other people’s corpora, collected for other purposes… Collecting your own corpora is hard work… Piggy-backing on other people’s corpora hugely simplifies the task.
That’s where Studs Terkel comes in. He spent decades interviewing (mostly) ordinary people and publishing the conversations, and he was fantastic at establishing a rapport with the folks he interviewed. The result was a body of corpora that’s a goldmine of data for (some) linguists, from Division Street (1966) on….
In the old days, you still had to search through the texts by hand, mark all the relevant examples, code them, put them on index cards (so that they could later be sorted and counted on your living-room floor, or its equivalent); it helps a lot if the stuff you’re reading actually has some interest for you. … Studs’s books were a big help.
So thanks, Studs, not only for being a mensch and giving public voice to the hitherto voiceless, but for helping linguists do their work. You’ll be missed by even more people than I realized.